It wasn't so long ago that mobile devices were considered rogue elements in the enterprise – more a cause of consternation than of celebration. Fast forward just a few years and the mobile enterprise is now mainstream. Not only are mobile devices ubiquitous in most organizations, but the approach to dealing with these devices is evolving.
According to Gartner, "by 2010, 50 percent of enterprises will have migrated away from tactical mobile application silos (supporting a single application) to strategic platforms capable of supporting multiple applications, managing devices and securing data and transport."
This is certainly a believable assertion – perhaps even conservative. Historically, new technology appears on the scene and is employed tactically. As the benefits of the technology grow more apparent, implementation increases – most often via departmental deployments, which ultimately force the issue of integration to achieve manageability, security and cost-effectiveness.
TACTICAL DEPLOYMENTS DON'T ADDRESS STRATEGIC CONCERNS
For some time now, it has been common for a broad range of mobile devices to run CRM, HR, sales and field force automation and other business-critical applications. However, as various departments deploy their tactical mobile solutions, complexity, security and cost begin to rear their unwelcome heads. These concerns grow especially acute when departments begin running multiple applications that require access to various back-end systems and databases on a small group of devices, and as deployments expand rapidly across multiple departments, leaving an exponential increase in the number of disparate systems running independently.
So, what's an already beleaguered IT manager to do?
AN ARCHITECTURAL SOLUTION
What's needed is a strategy to address the entire complex scenario – not merely a slice of it. What IT managers, application developers and systems integrators alike want is a single, strategic architectural platform that provides a set of comprehensive services to mobilize appropriate data and business processes using any mobile device.
More specifically, the platform should furnish:
• Data services to allow a uniform way to access heterogeneous data sources, ranging from structured and unstructured data to pre-packaged applications
• Mobile middleware services to provide the bridge between enterprise data and mobile devices in development and deployment environments
• Messaging services that support the use of SMS/MMS services for alerting, messaging and data transport
• Device services that present a uniform interface, enabling application development and deployment across a range of device platforms
• Development tooling that plugs into existing development environments and provides end-to-end easy and quick development of mobile applications
• An administrative console that gives IT a single view through which to manage, secure and deploy mobile data applications and devices
By enabling strategic mobile deployments instead of tactical or siloed ones, organizations can realize significant benefits, including a reduced total cost of ownership, easier application development and deployment, simple back-end integration with enterprise applications and centralized management and security, even as the organization's mobile user population continues to grow.
ADOPTING A MOBILE ENTERPRISE PLATFORM
Many organizations today are still trying to address these issues at the departmental level. After all, this is where many mobile deployments originated. Most mobility experts, however, recommend that IT departments recognize the inevitable and step up to deal with mobility challenges by devising a corporate-wide mobility strategy. Further, as IDC has advised in a white paper sponsored by Sybase, organizations should address the complexity inherent in broad mobile technology deployments by "adopting a mobile enterprise platform."
According to a J.Gold Associates study about mobile business applications conducted in 2008, 32 percent of organizations had more than three mobile projects under way and 22 percent had two projects. "We expect the number of simultaneous projects to increase in most organizations. As a result of having more than one initiative under way, organizations will require leveraging the assets of previous/parallel projects rather than implementing individual, stand-alone initiatives."
HOW TO BEGIN
So, how should your organization go about selecting and deploying a mobile enterprise platform?
First, consult with the industry leaders in enterprise mobility – vendors, consultants and other experts specializing in managing and mobilizing information from the data center to the point of action, wherever that may be.
Also, understand that the most effective mobile enterprise platform is not likely to be a brand new product built from scratch. Instead, the most effective mobile enterprise platform will integrate existing, industry-leading components that have already proven their effectiveness in demanding real-world environments. To handle all of an organization's mobile application requirements, a mobile platform should combine tooling integrated with standard development environments for quick development, deployment across heterogeneous devices and device management capabilities.
Once deployed, the benefits will accrue quickly. IT will be freed to devote their resources to revenue-generating activities, such as new application development. Application developers, including third-party application providers, can focus on their core competencies without having to concern themselves with building multiple interfaces. End users will retain their freedom to choose mobile devices (within reason), and organizations will be able to monitor and manage large numbers of devices, ensure enterprise security, protect sensitive information and comply with pertinent regulatory requirements.
And, of course, mobile employees will be able to deliver better customer service, anytime and anywhere.
Willie Jow is vice president of business operations and mobility products at Sybase.